Nicholas Ridley vs. John of the Cross

Will John of the Cross get "rid" of Ridley? Or will Nicholas Ridley "crucify" John of the Cross? These are the questions that emerge when an English martyr faces a Spanish mystic. Enjoy the last saintly square-off of the week and stay tuned for more Madness on Monday as Phillips Brooks takes on Simeon.

Yesterday it was Thomas Merton in a romp over Aelred 60% to 40%. The day wasn't without controversy as the Supreme Executive Committee was forced to deny allegations of a "Payment for Placement" scheme involving Saint Louis of France (or Missouri).

LM RidleyNicholas Ridley

Nicholas Ridley was a leading voice in the Protestant movement in the English Church and was executed for heresy and treason in the reign of Queen Mary I. In 1547, during the reign of Edward VI, Ridley was named Bishop of Rochester. He worked with Thomas Cranmer to develop the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and was enthroned as Bishop of London in 1550. He was a tireless advocate for reformed doctrine and took part not only in its promotion but also in the prosecution of Catholic-minded bishops and clergy. Ridley gained royal notice and favor having preached with energy and zeal before King Henry VIII. Once Henry abandoned Rome, Ridley’s star rose even higher. He showed concern for the interior spirituality and moral fabric of individual churchmen and the wider Church as a whole. He was unburdened by theological depth and known more for the fiery energy with which he preached and taught. Writing on Roman Catholicism, he declared in his Piteous Lamentation on the State of England, “What word of God hath that devilish drab, for the maintenance of her manifold abominations, and to set to sale such merchandise wherewith, (alas, the madness of man!) the wicked harlot hath bewitched almost the whole world?”

As bishop, Ridley ordered altars to be removed from the churches of his diocese and replaced by spare tables for services of the Lord’s Supper. Ridley supported the dissolution of the monasteries and was fierce in his assault on religious imagery in churches, on the doctrines of purgatory, confession, and saints, and on other articles of Catholic faith.

He took part in a plot to remove Queen Mary from the throne in favor of Lady Jane Grey and preached that Queens Elizabeth and Mary were illegitimate and thus not true monarchs. It was for this treason that, after his excommunication for heresy, he was burnt at the stake on October 16, 1555. He was executed alongside fellow bishop, Hugh Latimer. (Cranmer’s execution for heresy followed five months later). Latimer famously said to Ridley before the execution, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out.”

Collect for Nicholas Ridley (and Latimer and Cranmer)
Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servant Nicholas Ridley, we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- Robert Hendrickson

John_Cross1John of the Cross

Born in 1542, John of the Cross (Juan de Ypres y Alvarez) was a Spanish mystic, friar, poet, and priest. His father came from a wealthy family that disowned him because he married a woman beneath their social stature. When John’s father died soon after John’s birth, his family was left struggling in poverty. John would later say that the sacrifices of his youth taught him to have joy and peace in the midst of dire circumstances.

As a young adult, John studied at a nearby Jesuit college and later became a Carmelite friar and priest in 1577. Soon after, Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun, asked John to help her institute a series of reforms that would help return the Carmelite order to its original purpose of prayer and poverty. John agreed to take up her call and dedicated himself to greater prayer and self-sacrifice, including walking without shoes (as did other nuns and friars who sought a return to a deeper life of prayer). Those who participated in the reforms became known as “Discalced Carmelites” (or “Carmelites of Strict Observance”).

However, not everyone supported the reforms, and some of John’s fellow Carmelite friars kidnapped and imprisoned him in a 6x10-foot prison cell. Several times a week, John’s captors beat him. Even still, it was in the midst of his captivity that John wrote some of his most respected mystical writings, including poetry and spiritual commentary. Many of these writings reflected his dependence and journey to union with God. In The Dark Night of the Soul, one of John’s most well-known writings, John described the journey of feeling spiritually abandoned by God and how such a struggle can be a grace through which Christians can grow in faith and union with God.

After nine months in prison, John finally escaped and fled to a nearby convent. Over the course of his life, he traveled more than 30,000 miles and established more than eight monasteries across the Spanish countryside. John died in 1591 and was canonized a saint by Benedict XIII in 1726.

Collect for John of the Cross
Judge eternal, throned in splendor, you gave Juan de la Cruz strength of purpose and mystical faith that sustained him even through the dark night of the soul: Shed your light on all who love you, in unity with Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Maria Kane


Nicholas Ridley vs. John of the Cross

  • John of the Cross (79%, 3,956 Votes)
  • Nicholas Ridley (21%, 1,055 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,009

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131 comments on “Nicholas Ridley vs. John of the Cross”

  1. My Lent Madness criteria is completely subjective - which person inspires me more? So I understand people live within the confines of of their historical era, and the English church was in need of reform in the 1500s and Mary wasn't fun queen, but Ridley's bio seems to be more about what he was against than what he was for, and he seems more partisan than holy. I think I'd vote against him if he were battling St. Louis.

    That and St. John of the Cross is a mystic. Mystics always win, unless they are too astonishing.

    1. I'm with you. Maybe if he hadn't persecuted the RC's so much there wouldn't have been such a backlash.

    2. I agree re Ridley. Unfortunately, the most energetic reformers are often more focused on what they hate rather than on what they love - and they do very often throw out some of the best of what nourished them, although they usually deny that - Best novel about the English Reformation that I can remember is an old one - "The White Witch" - superb. Sympathetic to all - because of an awareness of the complexity of the whole -

      1. The write-up on Ridley is unfortunate, for it really misses out on the kindness of the man. It is hard for us to fathom the depth of corruption in the late medieval Church and the kind of power that bishops and abbots had. The Church in England controlled far more land and wealth than the government--and Bishops all pretty much had standing arms (which continued true for the Archbishop of Canterbury through the Reformation). It helps to not confuse post reformation clerics with that which came before.

        1. I should probably look up more about Ridley. I'm sure there was more to him than the what the write up depicted. If he had not been up against St. John of the Cross - one of my personal favorites - I probably would have sought out more information before I voted.

    1. I loved that phrase "unburdened by theological depth." It describes a lot of the noise we hear today from some people in churches.

    2. I thought it a rather hilarious comment about the theological knowledge Bishop Ridley possessed. Some might suggest that things have not changed much in 500 years.

  2. Easiest vote ever!

    St. Ridley did much to advance Anglicanism, but I cannot support the destruction of the monasteries and the loss of so much. His decided to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." There was a need for reformation but did he need to tear it all down to reform it?
    "He was unburdened by theological depth and known more for the fiery energy with which he preached and taught." Maybe if he was burdened with more theology and less rhetoric he would have accomplished more reform with less destruction.

    My vote - St. John of the Cross - the real saint.

    1. That is what I was thinking as well. I understand that St. Ridley did what he thought was best, but he didn't have to destroy their history as well.

    1. It's not a mixed metaphor if you use Webster's definition of depth to mean "intellectual complexity." The Rev. Mr. Hendrickson might be too honest to play this game successfully, but grammatically incompetent he is not.

      1. You've just cashed in the metaphor, which is fine but doesn't fix the original problem within the metaphor itself. Since one cannot carry depth it cannot be a burden.

  3. I agree with these comments. Ridley seems to prove live by prosecution and the axe die by prosecution and the axe.

  4. Um... what happened to John's wife? Please tell me she had died or something before he took on monastic life and that he didn't abandon her. That would be a hit against him, I'm afraid.

    1. Nevermind. I just reread and saw that it was John's FATHER who was disowned by his family for marrying beneath him. Apologies, please disregard!!!!

      1. No excuses. This is Lent. You'll have to spend the rest of the day in the House of Virgins 😉

  5. "Unburdened by theological depth. " what a great phrase. Nevertheless, I like Ridley's involvement in creating the prayer book, his rejection of the pomp and hocus pocus that still seem to enthrall the clergy and turn off many laypeople, and his concern for individual spiritual health. He was a brave man engaged in his world willing to die for his beliefs. I'm with him this time, maybe because other factors make him such an underdog.

  6. Again, a very personal vote for John of the Cross. The Dark Night of the Soul was a lifeline for me at a time in my life when I felt lost and alone. I don't think Ridley's bio did him justice though. Just saying.

    1. I know that Ridley helped write the second version of the BCP, but his actions sound like those of a fanatic. Of course, there were plenty of them during those turbulent years. (Not that there numbers have diminished all that much.) Still, having read some works of each contender, I think John much more nearly matches my understanding of Christianity. The Dark Night of the Soul was wonderful assurance for me when I needed it greatly.

  7. Both of these nominees were extremists; maybe all saints are. But if I must choose between extremisms, I vote for building monasteries rather than destroying them, for writing about union with God rather than working to create divisions between people.

    1. Well put, Susan. Your comment reinforced my vote for John of the Cross. Ridley was (or at least seemed from the bio) just too proudly anti-Catholic, while John's work and writing were humble and inspiring. (Besides, "Judge Eternal, Throned in Splendor" is a great hymn.)

  8. Willful persecution and destruction is unacceptable in any era. "Unburdened by theological depth" yet helped write BCP????

  9. I was drawn toward Nicholas for helping with the Book of Common Prayer, but when I got to the Catholic-bashing and altar crashing, "yeah" turn "meh" and then "feh." On the other hand, John faced one tribulation after another and kept reaching out to God, writing volumes that helped generations make their way through that same darkness into light. This you's for Juan.

  10. Easiest vote so far! John of the cross resonates with me in that one "can have joy and peace in the midst of dire circumstances." Trust me on this one.He's right!!

  11. Creation versus destruction. John wins my vote. Now if it had been Latimer, it might have been different.

  12. Very Easy this time around. Although Nicholas Ridley did much for the Anglican church, I cannot support his persecution of Catholics. Yes, he was a product of his times, but again too many people died because of his beliefs.

  13. Well, I was sure I was voting for Ridley until I read the two bios. Ridley didn't come across as much of a Christian or a saint to me. I am sad about the destruction of the monasteries and the losses of sacred sites.

  14. I'm breaking my own bracket. I thought I would vote for Ridley, but I had this nagging feeling (leftover from my studies of the Tudors) that he wasn't someone I admired. After reading the biography, I remembered why. I'm happy that he contributed to the dear BCP, but I think he was really quite the opportunist. His participation in the dissolution of the monasteries (a supreme tragedy in English history, I think), and declaring Mary and Elizabeth to be illegitimate were not saintly actions, in my book.

    To my surprise, I'm voting for Juan as well!

  15. John of the Cross all the way! I taught a Sunday school class on the tradition of doubt within the faith last year, and he was one of my headliners; it's so good to see him here in the brackets. (Also, there's a great setting of his "Dark Night of the Soul" by Loreena McKennitt, if you've never heard it:

    And corruption by the SEC? Never! I might be more worried about our dearly beloved commentator Archbishop Cranmer and his work with Ridley for this one...

  16. St. John responded in a Christ-like way to his persecution at the hands of his own supposed fellow believers. Ridley, on the other hand, set himself up as judge and jury. I'm sure I'll meet Ridley in heaven, but for now, he strikes me as more of a model of behavior to avoid than to emulate!

  17. Oh, myyyyyy! That phrase appears destined to live on in infamy! Some few have actually voted for poor Nicholas - will none rise to defend him (and their votes)?

  18. The early history of the Anglican movement is rife with persecution of those whose hearts would not permit them to follow the party line. No Ridley for me, thank you very much.

  19. This may be the first time in the long and esteemed history of Lent Madness that in a first round matchup between one who was executed for the faith and one who died naturally the martyr is being kicked to the curb.

  20. wow .. "supported the dissolution of the monasteries and was fierce in his assault on religious imagery.." The other saint's biography was going to have to be very dismal before I could give a vote to Nicholas.

    I appreciate that Nicholas did valuable work to be honored on the calendar, and I remind myself to remember that we all have feet of clay, but these feet are definitely walking over to give a vote to John.

  21. Upon rereading both bios several times, I choose the effective proactivism of Bishop Ridley. I liked the biographers assertion/conclusion that he was unburdened by depth of
    theology. Bravo. He was moved to passionate conviction regarding spirituality--that of individuals and that of the Church. I view that as I do ethical behavior transcendimg man made legal imperatives. God's laws as we are made to understand them, should prevail. And, good grief, now we have the BCP for comfort and guidance beside the Holy Bible and the Hymnal. If we say he was flawed,
    we must acknowledge he was a man, and one of his time. But he was a great one, and worthy of sainthood.